Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Crossing the Bridge of Sighs ...

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison in each hand ...
                    ~~Lord Byron

                                                            Why so unforgiving, and why so cold;
                                                            Been a long time crossing, Bridge of Sighs ...
                                                                                ~~Robin Trower

From the first hint of atmospheric effects, to the last droning notes of a brilliantly executed chord progression, the title track off Robin Trower's 1974 solo album The Bridge of Sighs sets a mood that fits the theme of the song. That short, yet emotionally long walk across the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) was the last view of freedom granted to the petty thieves and other small-time criminals of 17th and 18th-century Venice; men and women who were often unfairly tried in the palace of the Doge, and if found guilty, sent to their fate in the dungeons of the "New Prison" on the other side of the Rio di Palazzo - a fate from which many of them never returned. That final hint of daylight, moonlight, starlight through the stone grillwork midway across - maybe a brief glimpse through those narrow openings of wind-rippled waves sparkling off San Giorgio's white marble facade - and as Lord Byron aptly wrote, "a palace and a prison in each hand" as they stood for mere seconds between freedom and the horrors of incarceration.

Trower's haunting rift and melancholy lyrics transport the listener to that moment, standing balanced between light and dark, and looking through the prisoner's eyes as they ask why. Working through a chord progression that includes major and minor 7ths, he maintained the perfect amount of sustain and distortion in his performance, capturing the atmosphere of time and place with the repetition of a relatively simple signature. As Robert Fripp once said: "Robin Trower is one of the very few English guitarists that have mastered bends and wobbles. Not only has he got inside them, with an instinctive knowing of their affective power, but they went to live inside his hands. ... This was a man who hung himself on the details: the quality of sound, nuances of each inflection and tearing bend, and abandonment to the feel of the moment." In this song, that sense of abandonment is apparent at every shift - from verse to chorus, from beginning to end, the listener is drawn into another world, where they walk alongside the guilty, crossing the Bridge of Sighs.

The Bridge of Sighs album features James Dewer on vocals and bass and Reg Isidore on drums, and was produced by Trower's former bandmate Matthew Fisher (of Procul Harum), with sound engineering by Geoff Emerick (best known for his work on The Beatles' Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road).

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